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Cities and Knights (Kosmos and Mayfair Games, 2000 - Klaus Teuber) is probably the most controversial of the Settlers of Catan expansion. And the reason is quite simple - it makes the game quite a bit more complex, changing it entirely. Some people welcome this change, as they feel “vanilla” Settlers is too simplistic, and this expansion adds the complexity that is needed. Others feel that the length and added rules actually detract from the game, dragging what was once a short, fun game into a dreary, endless experience.
I am in the former group, thinking that the benefits of Cities and Knights are largely for those who desire a more complex game with various options. But I do realize that Cities and Knights is a huge change from the original Settlers, and I still revert back to the original game + Seafarers often. But if you like the basic system of Settlers and would like to see it optimized and expanded, then Cities and Knights is your game. Here’s a listing of some of the changes...
1.) Commodities: Three more types of cards are included with the game - cloth, coin, and paper - known as commodities. When a city is next to a pasture, mountain, or forest, and the number on that hex is rolled, the player with the city gains cloth, coin, or paper instead of two of the basic resources. Commodities are used by players to upgrade their cities, and in most circumstances are treated like resources- can be traded, stolen, etc.
2.) Walls: Each player receives three square wooden blocks in their color at the beginning of the game. These can be built on a player’s turn under one of their cities by paying two bricks. Each city wall allows a player to increase their hand limit (when a robber is rolled) by two cards - to a maximum of eleven cards. Walls are a nice feature; but unless you’re hoarding cards, they’re not that big of a deal. I’ve seen some players center their strategies around walls, but never to any kind of game-breaking strategy. Still, another option (and another wooden piece!) is nice to have in the game.
3.) City Improvements: At the beginning of the game, each player is given a flip booklet (calendar) to show their city improvements. On the one side of each of the three sections of the calendar, the players can see all their building options and the costs of each - a great player aid! Players can also use cloth, coin, or paper to improve their cities. Each of the three sections of the city (trade, politics, and science) can be upgraded several times by paying a certain amount of commodities. For example, a player can upgrade to the first politic level - the Town Hall, by paying one coin commodity to the bank. Each time a section of the city is upgraded, one page in that section of the calendar is flipped - showing a picture of the upgrade and the improvement die numbers.
4.) Progress Cards: The development cards and largest army victory point card are removed from the game, and one of the white dice is exchanged for a new red die. Three new progress card decks are added to the game - one for each section of the city, as well as an event die. On each turn, the player rolls the red, white, and event die. After each player takes resources for the number shown on the two resource dice, they check the even die. If the event die shows a city matching the color of one of the three sections of the cities, players check their calendar and the red die. If the number on the red die matches one of the number icons shown on their current level in that section of their city, the player draws a progress card from the matching deck. If the players upgrade each section all the way, they will eventually get a card no matter what number is rolled; as long as the event die shows the color of that section of the city (one out of six). The event cards do a variety of things - many of them the same as those from the original deck, with the notable absence of the soldier cards. Each deck has a different feel to it: the trade progress cards all have to do with the resource and commodity cards, the political progress cards allow players to annoy their opponents (like removing a road, etc.), and the science progress cards allow the player to skip steps (like placing two roads for free). Players must seek to upgrade their cities as quickly as possible, because these cards can be quite useful. It’s really nice when you are getting a pile of these cards - and the almanac provided with the game clearly explains each card.
5.) Special Abilities: When player’s sections in their city reach the third progress level, they get a special ability. The aqueduct (science section) allows a player to take a resource of their choice if the production roll gets nothing for them. This is a smooth ability to have - especially early in the game, when getting the right resource can put you quite a bit ahead of your opponents. The Merchant Guild (trade section) allows players to trade commodities to the bank at a 2:1 rate. This makes commodities even more important to a player and allows them a lot of flexibility when trading. The fortress (political section) allows players to promote strong knights to mighty knights (explained later). Depending on which ability a player craves the most usually determines which section of the city they improve first, and it’s usually a good idea to get to all of them if possible.
6.) Metropolis: Three golden metropolis wooden pieces are included with the game, looking like a city gate. They slide on top of a city piece, making a city look pretty fantastic. The first player to achieve the fourth level of improvement in each of the three sections gets a metropolis gate to place on any of their cities on the board. A city with a metropolis is worth four victory points rather than two! This makes them a hot item to acquire; and if a player can snag two of them, they are all but assured of victory!
7.) Knights: Each player receives six round knight pieces at the beginning of the game - two of three different types (basic, strong, and mighty.) Sticker pictures of the knights are placed on both sides of the piece - one with a black and white picture (the inactive side), and the other in full color (active side). A player may build a basic knight for one wool and one ore at any unoccupied intersection connected to one of their roads, placing it on the inactivated side. A player can activate any basic knight to a strong knight for an additional wool and ore, and can upgrade the strong knight to a mighty knight for the same price, if they have the fortress upgrade. Any inactivated knight can be flipped to their activated side for the cost of one grain. Since this is something that happens a lot in the game, the value of grain is increased greatly. When playing a game of Cities and Knights, try to get a city next to a field - you won’t regret it! Knights keep players from building past them and can be moved to another intersection (following roads), but only if they are active. A Knight can move to a spot where the opponent has a knight, but only if they are stronger than the opposing knight (mighty>strong>basic). If the player does so, they “displace” (we like to call it a battle), forcing the opponent to move their knight to an open intersection. If there are no open intersections, the knight is removed from the board (killing, in Catan!). Knights can also move the robber if they are adjacent to the hex the robber is on. The knight then basically behaves as a soldier in the original game, moving the robber to a new spot and stealing a resource/commodity from another player. When moving a knight, displacing another knight, or chasing away a robber, the active knight must be flipped to their inactive side. Knights allow players to be a bit more aggressive in the game. If you ignore them, you’ll find that the robber lands on you quite a bit more!
8.) Barbarians: Two conjoined tiles are placed as part of the original setup, depicting a small track showing the movement of a barbarian ship. A ship counter is placed at the first spot on this eight-space track and is moved one space every time a barbarian ship is rolled on the event die. When the barbarian ship reaches the last space on the track (a burning city), the barbarians attack. The strength of the barbarians is equal to the number of cities owned by all players. The players then total the strength of all defending knights (only active ones). Each knight is worth a certain value (basic = 1, strong = 2, mighty = 3). If the knights win the battle (have a equal or higher sum), then they win. The player who has the greatest value of knights on the board in the battle receives one of six “Defender of Catan!” victory point cards. (Ties do not award the card, instead each player gets a free progress card.) If the barbarians win the battle, then the player(s) who contributed the lowest value of knights to the battle have one of their cities reduced to a settlement (a crushing blow!). Either way, the barbarian ship goes back to the beginning of the track, and all knights are turned to the inactive side.
9.) Barbarian evilness: Some people don’t like the barbarians, because they attack often and tend to hurt the weakest players. I myself play with an optional rule where the first barbarian attack doesn’t count to give players a little time to build up. I think the barbarians are a good thing - they keep the players in check, forcing them to build knights, and provide an opportunity to get more points.
10.) Merchant: A yellow conical wooden piece is included with the game to represent the merchant. Some trade progress cards allow a player to control the merchant, placing it on a hex adjacent to one of their cities or settlements. That player can then trade that resource 2:1. Also, whoever controls the merchant has an extra victory point. The merchant isn’t game breaking but can put a lot of power into the hands of the person who has it. This will keep players interested in improving the trade section of their cities.
11.) Variants and Seafarers: Cities and Knights works with Seafarers, but it does make the game longer and a bit more complicated. The rules provide detailed instructions on how to seamlessly merge the two expansions. Also, there are some variants on play included in the rules - one of them being the one I mentioned above, talking about easier barbarians.
12.) Component Quality: Cities and Knights comes with a LOT of stuff, much more than Seafarers, and is definitely worth the price. The little calendars are really nice quality and show the players their eleven options for building each turn. The three decks of progress cards are also pretty neat to look at and offer more choices than the simple deck with the original game. The commodity cards have the same backings as the resource cards, so they can be hidden, mixed up, and stolen; although having one of them stolen can be a bit more annoying than a normal commodity.
13.) Fun Factor: I greatly enjoy this expansion, if only for the sheer amount of options a player has now. Players must balance building the longest road, with upgrading their cities and with building knights - a fine balance must be maintained. It’s very easy for a player to fall behind if they don’t watch out, and controlling commodities and grain can be rather important. All in all, it’s a pretty impressive expansion but could very well overwhelm new players. We had fun fighting off the barbarians, but I could see how some could get frustrated at having continual conflict appear in a game that beforehand had none of it.
All in all, I think this is a worthy expansion to Settlers of Catan. Mr. Teuber did an excellent job where he took a good system and added a lot of unique mechanics to make it basically a totally different game. And that’s what the whole matter comes down to. If you liked the basic Settlers game, or even Seafarers, and are looking for more of the same - you just might be disappointed. Cities and Knights changes the basic game of Settlers to a longer, more strategic event. If that’s what you want, you’ll be quite pleased. If you prefer quickness and simplicity, then stick with the basic Settlers, and try out some new scenarios for variety. Either way, it’s amazing the things that can be done with the base system of Settlers.
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